Complex Relationship Systemic Counseling
There are many different kinds of love, the passion of attraction, the enduring love of relationships that last lifetimes, the heated love of first dates and new relationships, and the boundless love parents should have for their children. Polyamory means at it’s root – love for many, and it is the expression of erotic, romantic and hopefully enduring love for more then just a single partner.
No two polyamorous relationships will hold identical philosophies and relationships constructs. However healthy and resilient polyamorous people practice mutual consent and honesty, and relationships must be entered into openly and honestly. For many, commencement of a new relationship requires the consent of all other parties with whom one is in a relationship; In a healthy relationship it always requires their knowledge. Some polyamorous people prioritize one relationship–for example, their marriage–over other relationships, while others explicitly decry the prioritization of one person over others as a form of ownership. The prefixes of primary and secondary can reply to the age of a sub-relationship, the order in which a relationship was formed, or to a prioritization.
Polyamory has been around since before recorded time, in some cultures it was formalized, in some it was quietly accepted as a part of life, and in some it was anathema. The religions of the world have as many varied opinions as polyamory has forms. In our modern western culture some have cultural or ethical biases toward or against the idea, and some will take to it like fish to water. In the united states the media has presented us with some popular presentations of one form, Polygamy, that is sanctioned by some religious groups, but is not generally accepted by our legal structures. Polygamy is most typically the occurrence of multiple marriages between a single man and several women. Polyandry is the marriage of one woman to multiple men and has in history been an accepted practice in some eastern and mesoamerican cultures.
Are Open relationships/Swinging the Polyamory same thing?
Swinging and Polyamory tend to have a lot of overlap, and there’s not a distinct line between the two. I like to think of it as a continuum. However polyamorous relationships usually differ from the ‘Swinger’ lifestyle in a number of key ways:
- Swingers are generally more about recreational sex without love bonds, while polyamory is more about loving relationships. (this may not always be the perspective of all involved however)
- Swinging is monogamously based. While lacking fidelity, swingers are almost always bonded pairs (usually married couples).
- Couples enter into swinging for a tremendous variety of reasons. While it is typical that they believe their relationship is strong enough that it will prevent romantic feelings for others to develop, that is not always the case.
- Many swinging groups or organizations will explicitly exclude non-married and/or non-couples, to further prevent the romantic bonds.
- Swinging is generally time limited, viewed as a recreational or occasional diversion from a stable pair bond. Polyamorous relationship are usually a part of their members every day life.
Open relationships tend to differ from swinging in that they are often non-heteronormative (Gay or Lesbian) bonded couples and are not seeking a structured exchange with other couples. They are similar in the tendency not to embrace romantic love of more than one partner at a time. (this may not always be the perspective of all involved however)
Poly Relationships may be triads, or may branch out in complex connections of many people. You may have a triad where one partner is romantically involved with two people, who are just friends. You may have two primary bonded couples who each are romantically and/or physically involved with more than one of the other three. Or you may have a closed triangle of three who are exclusive.
You don’t have to choose any one path – but they are not the same thing. It’s important to be able to communicate with potential new partners about what you desire in relationships.
What can a therapist do for my/our polyamorous relationship?
Polyamorous relationships have been compared to many other experiences, that are more rewarding but also much more complex and difficult. Drawing on the systems theory, it is a known truth that the more complex a system becomes, the more its individual components will perturb each other, and the more adaptability required to be resilient. What this means in this context is that relationships with more people will have more lines of conflict, and the members must have more tolerance for conflict, and flexibility in expectations, if the relationships are going to last.
Some examples of the concerns I have helped poly relationships work through include:
- A couple in previously monogamous relationship, where one partner wishes to have other lovers or has started to have other lovers (possibly lovers of a different gender then their primary partner)
- A couple who started a primary relationship with someone knowing the she was polyamorous, and they are struggling to see if they can handle that situation.
- A Lesbian couple who began to both have romantic feelings for a housemate who over the course of 7 weeks became a third partner.
- A Gay couple who had an open ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ relationship – having to come to terms with one of them falling in love with a second man, while still feeling love for the first.
- A homosexual polyamorous group of 3 undergoing significant concerns when a member is drawn to someone of the opposite gender.
- A couple that never had a monogamous commitment, who started with a non-monogamous relationship, but have been de facto monogamous for years, and now one of them is having feelings of guilt over having been involved with another, or feeling of betrayal because their partner has been with someone else after so many years.
Additionally, much like a traditional binary marriage, many poly relationships find that seeing a counselor during the early stages of forming can provide a safe, generative container for creating the common understandings and boundaries that can ensure resilience and longevity. Is everyone on the same page about living arrangements, children, pets, division of finances and responsibilities? As a psychotherapist one of my primary skills is facilitating communication and understanding.
So what is Complex Relationship Systemic Counseling
Complex Relationship Systemic Counseling (CRSC) draws on systems thinking to view romantic relationships of more then two participant as an emotional system. Systems thinking—evaluating the parts of a system in relation to the whole—when applied to complex relationships, would implicitly suggest that any persons in a non binary relationship will exhibit behaviors informed by and inseparable from the functioning of all other members of the relationship, regardless of that individuals direct or indirect involvement with any other member. It leans on the evidence based practices of Family Systems Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and Humanistic school of Narrative Therapy.
What CRSC is not: It is not a commonly practiced psycho-therapeutic theory/modality with an established cannon of interventions. Currently it exists as the fusion of 2 traditionally practiced and evidence based therapies with a connecting glue of techniques drawn from Humanistic and Jungian schools of theory. It is my own construct in a field lacking clear pathways, I will continue to refine and perhaps explore in scholarly research of my own as my career and further education permits, finally it is my unique gift to a highly under-served community that I have the utmost respect for.